Swell Maps - Let's Build A Reputation

Around for a while before punk rock descended, Solihull's Swell Maps were to become an influential band long after they knocked it on the head. Having delivered a series of blistering DIY 45's ("Read About Seymour", "Dresden Style" & "Let's Build A Car") for their own Rather Records label, & later Rough Trade, Swell Maps dropped their debut lp, "A Trip To Marineville" & lo-fi was born (N.B. - Sebadoh & Pavement were still in short pants).

All band members employed wonderfully expressive pseudonyms; Nikki Sudden, Phones B Sportsman, Jowe Head, Epic Soundtracks & Biggles Books. The sleeve of "A Trip To Marineville" featured a semi-detatched house with flames pouring from windows & doors - Swell Maps had set the nascent indie scene alight & would eventually be cited as an influence by people from as far away as New York City (Sonic Youth).

Their finest moments are available on the wonderful compilation CD, "International Rescue", available (as are many other essential items) from;

Cheapside, 12 Spilsbury Close, Leamington Spa, CV32 6SW.

trakMARX.com cyber walked all the way back to Germany to fire a few questions in the general direction of Mr Nikki Sudden. This is what he had to say;

10 Answers

1) What inspired you to pick up a guitar?

I heard T.Rex - Jeepster. First single I bought was Telegram Sam. The logical thing seemed to be to buy a guitar. It cost me 6 quid and was more or less totally unplayable. A few months later I bought an electric - with the same awful action! In recent years I've (at last) got some great guitars. Three Gibsons: Les Paul Special, Les Paul Standard and Flying V. A couple of Fender Telecasters and a few others.

2) Formed in 1972, Swell Maps were active during in the years leading up to Punk. Who were yr. major influences in those days?

T.Rex, Can, Stones, Dolls... All the usual suspects: Bowie, Slade, King Crimson, Free, etc.

3) Which 1st wave UK punk bands impressed you the most & why?

The Boys, and to some degrees the Adverts, are the only ones I still think did it from their hearts. The Pistols and the Clash still sound good but none of them have done anything worthwhile since. The Boys - Honest John Plain and Casino Steel anyway, have done some great stuff - and are still doing great stuff...

4) As the movement established itself, did you feel an affinity with the main protagonists?

Not really.

5) Rather Records was one of the 1st "indie labels" to spring from the punk scene. Was the DIY ethic important to Swell Maps?

At the time yes. In retrospect possibly. Mind you we still went to the best studio we could afford - WMRS in Leamington Spa. I still record w/ John Rivers now. The studio is now called WSRS. The rates have gone up from 4 pounds per hour to 35! But the studio has improved as well. When we first went there it was 4-track 1/4", now it's digital 32 / 48-track. As long as you do things from the heart they're going to work out fine.

6) You recorded a lot of Peel sessions in the early days, was his support vital in the development of the band?

John Peel played Read About Seymour around 10 times out of 12 shows when it was released. John Walters (Peel's producer) offered us 3 sessions. His help was very much appreciated. Mind you since Swell Maps broke up he's never (to my knowledge) ever played anything that myself or my brother, Epic, recorded. Or any Maps stuff!

7) Many early punks used an alias to avoid dole snoopers. Did Swell Maps do likewise, or just enjoy using cooler names?

I wanted a name like Billy Fury, Tommy Steele, Marty Wilde - the Larry Parnes stable of stars. Nikki Sudden seemed a good idea. Now I'm stuck with the name. Mind you, having lived with it for more than half my life everyone calls me Nikki, save for my aunt and a cousin or two. Since Epic's death even my parents call me Nikki.

8) Swell Maps have been sited as an influence by many younger bands over the last 20 years or so, Sonic Youth for one are great admirers. Who do you feel the Swell Maps sound shaped, & how did you rate them?

Apparently Sonic Youth, Pavement, Pussy Galore and many others claim to be influenced by Swell Maps. You can't blame us. I don't really like any of their stuff... But appreciate their good taste...

9) The Maps called it a day in in 1981 whilst on an Italian tour. What were the reasons behind the split?

The others, Richard and Epic, thought I wanted to become to 'rock' n roll' while they wanted to become more experimental. Jowe was out to lunch at the time - literally. Since then Epic told me that the stuff he was proudest of doing during the 1980's was the Jacobites' albums and "Texas". And both of us ended up doing music based on the same roots. As Epic put it, "We grew up together but grew apart." At the time I think the band should have stayed together. In retrospect we'd probably achieved a lot of what we were meant to achieve.


a) Swell Maps were one of the first bands to sign with Rough Trade. What did you make of the 25th Anniversary Box Set?

I still haven't seen a copy. I wasn't even aware of it's existence or that they'd used Let's Build A Car until I saw a review in Record Collector.

b) Rough Trade are currently dropping some of their most exciting release in years with bands like The Strokes & Moldy Peaches. Have you heard either, & what do you make of them?

I've not heard of either of these bands. A name like Moldy (Mouldy?) Peaches doesn't really hold much hope for anything, does it?

Jean Encoule

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